The rules of grieving

Theres a beautiful new purple Bearded Iris blooming in our garden.  A fresh splash of colour amongst the greenery.  It has had to fight it’s way through the other plants, but the job is done and it is making a good show on its own.

I’m guessing that there’s a message in that.  It is standing out from the crowd, not afraid to be what it is meant to be.  It didn’t wait for the others before it bloomed, in fact I’m not even sure there are any others to come.

All too often we stop and wait for the others, as we are too fearful of making a stance on our own.  Worried about what people might think about us if we stand up for a cause or something we believe in.  Rather we can stifle that urge, because nobody else is doing what we want to do, or perhaps they are doing it well and we think we couldn’t be as good.  Or maybe it is not the accepted ‘norm’.

Grieving is a little like that.

I recall being asked a few months after Kelly died, if I was ‘over it yet?’  I was so shocked I just stared, couldn’t find an answer.  By the time I was able to get some thoughts together, that person said ‘I suppose that was a silly thing to say!’

Sure was.

I didn’t just lose something of little value, that I could ‘get over’ in a few months.  Some take years to manage everyday life without getting teary at any mention of a lost loved one.  Others seem to cope reasonably in a fairly ‘normal’ fashion after only a few months.  It really doesn’t matter much.  There are no rules around grief, it is whatever and whenever and pertains specifically to you.  Just because I can talk about Kelly without crying anymore — doesn’t mean I’m not on the inside, I’m just getting better at masking my feelings.

So we go about our lives judging ourselves by others standards, when really we need to look to ourselves to set our own.  There aren’t any rules to follow, it’s not like making a cake and following a recipe, particularly when it pertains to grieving.

We each do it in our own way

Death & Dying

There is a vast difference between dying, and death.

I guess we are all dying – some of us take longer to do it than others.  For the past few weeks we have been watching my father-in-law move to the end stages of his long life, he was ninety two and a half.  What an amazing life he lived, although he had just been going through the motions for the last few years since mum died.  He missed her terribly every day, so although it was sad, it was also a blessing to think he is now at peace and with the love of his life at last.

Years ago I read Simone de Beauvoir’s book A Very Easy Death, in which she talked about her mother dying.  She was affronted when the nurses talked about her death as being very easy.  She didn’t see it that way, most likely because she was looking at it through the eyes of a loved one.  From a nursing perspective, there are ‘easy’ deaths, and there are difficult ones.      They weren’t being unkind when they said it was easy, just stating a fact as they saw it.

Looking back on the last few weeks of Dads life, it probably wasn’t that easy, but looking at it from a nursing point of view – when I put my old nurses cap on – it wasn’t too difficult either.   And he seemed to be at peace.   When you compare the death of an aged loved one to the sudden unexpected death of a child, they are worlds apart.

Sudden death in young people will always be a tragedy, whereas a person who has lived a long and full life is going to be an expected one.  A young death is tragic and a waste of untapped potential.  A death such as dad’s is looked on as the end of a long journey, filled with interesting experiences  – and as we write his eulogy – many stories to tell.           When we come to his funeral we will be looking back on a life well-lived.  We will share precious moments as we remember, funny ones too.  There will be sadness and probably a few more tears shed because of our loss.

However when I think back to the immediate days after Kelly’s death, we also shared precious and funny moments, but the grief was intense for a life gone too soon.  A life that still had so much living to do, and we mourned that with a much deeper level of sadness than we mourn dad.

As a mother I mourned the loss of my baby – even though she was twenty – and for the dreams and hopes I had for my child.  As a daughter-in-law I mourn at a much lighter level for a man who pined for his mate, his partner of sixty plus years and the love of his life.  We will celebrate that life, even as we celebrate for him as he leaves us to join his love.

It is simple, and something we knew would happen, compared to Kelly’s sudden end, which we are still coming to terms with after sixteen years.  We – her immediate family – will most likely still be grieving for her in another sixteen years time, whereas with dad, we will be content because he lived past his life expectancy.

We will still miss him, but he will be remembered with fondness and love, rather than disappointment and grief.

 

Grief Has No Time Limit..

Grief and mourning go hand in hand, and they are not exclusive to those that have died. It can be experienced in many ways, and mourning can be associated with many different things.

The loss of a job that has been a way of life for years can be like a death. Things change, and with change often comes a period of mourning, although not everyone acknowledges their feelings as such.  Illness and loss of bodily function, appearance can also lead to grief.

Children moving out of the family home for the first time can be a cause for celebration for those left at home, or – it can be a loss – and mourned as such. Speak to mothers who’ve experienced this. Initially relief that finally your child has grown up enough to leave home, followed by sadness or even true grief. Your baby doesn’t need you any more. The reality is very often that they’ll be back – not necessarily to stay, but for chats, advice and the like, or to bring the washing! But it’s hard to see that at first.

Then there is the grief that comes with death. The grief we cannot put a time limit on.

Most commonly, the loss of a loved one is a parent or older relative. That is the usual order of life. We reach an age, and then we die. Hopefully we go gracefully, or better still quickly rather than a lingering on.

But then too often, comes the tragedy of losing a child. The age doesn’t really matter, as it doesn’t seem right that your child should go before you. That’s not the way of life!

From personal experience, the initial grief was raw, harsh and totally absorbing, blended in with shock and disbelief. This grief can be for sharing; having someone to talk to who remembers that child can be truly comforting. We were blessed as a family to have friends who came to share in our grief, to be there to support us in that extreme need. They gave us the strength to keep going, or at least it seemed that way at the time. With them you can release the healing laughter, reminiscing over some of the mad and memorable moments of that lost life.

For others who do not have that luxury, then the strength comes from who knows where.

Tears – how much can a body cry? You begin to wonder just where the tears come from and when will they stop! Floods of them, cleansing perhaps, but all part of the mourning process.

Despair too, is a part, and wondering how on earth will you get through this. But you cope. It is amazing where the strength comes from, but it appears when you need it. People comment on how strong you are, but inside you feel quite differently.

As time goes on, the grief becomes more bearable, it seems to wax and wane but you never really know when it will come. You try to contain your grief for the sake of others, but it seems that the more you are in control, the harder the next bout will be.   It has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. You’ll be driving along and a song will come on the radio – one that was a favourite or you associate with them and the tears come again.

Oh there will be anger too at some stage – how dare they go and leave you to suffer? Anger at the loss of potential, the possible grandchildren, the chance to be related to a famous movie star perhaps. But that passes, and with the passing comes acceptance. Then a certain calmness and even peacefulness. The feeling that it was all meant to be, all part of the order of life leaving simply – sadness.

This journey will run parallel to the rest of life, beside the day-to-day stuff. Every now and then you will stop and wonder what your life would be like if they had lived. Daydreaming about possibilities forever gone, but then life and reality creeps back in again and you get back to the practical things in life.

What will we have for tea tonight?

Friends … Family …

Friends – we’ve all got them. Some of them are better than others, but most of us can confidently say that we have friends.

The dictionary describes a friend as “a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile.”

They are there to support you when you need them, but I guess over the years I’ve certainly had some friends who were hostile! Maybe that’s why they really aren’t on my friends list now – ha ha!

Then there are the friends we have on social media – all those friends on Facebook. Do you ever find yourself browsing through that list of friends and wondering who some of those people are? I know I have, and I’ve asked myself why I accepted that friend request in the first place. Just because they were friends with several of my friends, doesn’t mean that they should be on my list. Although, perhaps it is flattering to have someone want to see what you post?

A teenager may boast of having a vast number of ‘friends’, but they aren’t all true friends. Friendship can’t be counted in numbers; it’s really by the deeds.

Periodically I sort through and quietly move some of those ‘friends’ off the list.I mean, really do they know my family and do they need to know when my grandson got his license?Are they really interested that I made my first batch of mozzarella cheese yesterday? It was good fun too – I’m looking forward to doing it again someday, despite the recipes saying it takes thirty minutes – I took most of the afternoon!

Anyway, back to friends. I have a number of people I feel proud to call my friends. Some I’ve had for years. You know, the ones that you seem to lose track of when you move and then you see them again and it’s like you were just talking to them yesterday. They’re the ones I value.

Then there are the ones that are there in a crisis. I had some amazing friends around me when Kelly died. I still have them. The neighbors’ who had become good friends – the ones who I’d shared many a glass of wine with over the years. They were there for us when we needed them, doing the little things that you can’t think of when you are shell-shocked with new grief. That’s friendship.

Or the ones like my Wednesday coffee friends, who are there for you whatever the crisis is in your life. They dispense advice, give great hugs, and sit there sipping their coffee or tomato juice just listening to you pour it all out.

When I’m in need of a shoulder to lean or cry on, I think of my friends, and I ask myself “have I been a good friend to them too?’

A good test of friendship is in those times you really need a friend and that person is there to support you. I’m sure we’ve all had ‘friends’ who disappeared when the times got tough. Or the odd ‘hostile’ one.

We now have a new buzzword, it’s been around for some time although it’s not in all the dictionaries yet. I’ve no doubt it will be in time.

It is ‘framily’. When I first heard it I thought that someone had made a slip of the tongue, but no, it is real. My spellcheck doesn’t like it, but I think it’s a great word.

The Macmillan dictionary defines it as “A new social group underpinned by the principles that good friends are the family that we choose for ourselves.”

 I know that I have a wonderful framily surrounding me, supporting me and loving me – and I love them back too. xxx

 

It Always Happens To Someone Else.

The news seems to be always in your face.

Walking down the street, there are signs outside the Newsagents advertising the daily papers often with gruesome headlines about someone else’s misfortune.  But we don’t seem to really notice, we just take it all in our stride. That’s life.

I rarely buy a newspaper now, as it appears that all I’m doing is reading about someone else’s troubles, when at times it seems that I’ve got enough of my own.  If we watch television for any length of time we are bombarded with adverts for the news, some channels even have the rolling banners at the bottom of the screen to tempt you into watching their bulletins.  Because I’m a bit of a footy tragic, I’ve been getting quite a bit of air time lately, although that will all end after the AFL Grand Final on Saturday.  But, as a rule, I don’t like to watch too much telly as it is so unproductive – except when I can crochet and produce something useful.

We’ve become accustomed and desensitised about natural disasters, bombings, murders, suicides and terrorist attacks.  We may feel some sympathy for the victims, express our horror at what is being done and then go about our daily lives.  Perhaps we may even discuss some event with friends over coffee or wine, but generally it is forgotten rather quickly.

Until it happens to you.

For me, suicide was something that happened to other people. I’d never had any close experience of it, and really it wasn’t something that was spoken about very much.  I do recall hearing about a colleague who had lost a child to suicide, and felt very sad for her. But as she worked on another unit, I didn’t see her very often so I didn’t think about it too much.  Plus, I’d coped with both of my daughters attempting suicide, and though it was extremely distressing at the time, it seemed that it wasn’t too big a deal when both girls were getting on with their lives again, seemingly okay.

On the surface – which I learnt too late.

Then when I had to face the awful reality of it with my own child, it was devastating.  Why didn’t I know about this before?  How did I get beyond my children’ teenage years – and surviving two suicide attempts – without realising the catastrophic impact it has on your life.  Not only your own, but the lives of those close to your family and the victims friends.

I think Kelly was the first – and I believe only one – in her group of friends and it left them shell-shocked.  They had no idea how to deal with the death of one of their own. I watched them after the funeral; they seemed to have difficulty expressing themselves around us. Then when we had Kelly’s twenty-first birthday party, we encouraged them to talk about her, to tell the stories they fondly remembered. It seemed the dam had burst, when – after the initial hesitancy – they really let their hair down and laughed together over their remembrances. It was cathartic and healing.

So, yes, it does happen to others, but there is a new compassion for others in their grief, now that I’ve experienced my own.